Feb 20, 2020

Axios Sports

Kendall Baker

๐Ÿ‘‹ Good morning! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,852 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: ๐Ÿ€ The death of the post-up
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Data: NBA Advanced Stats; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

NBA teams have been steadily abandoning the back-to-the-basket game for years thanks to the three-point explosion and the corresponding rise of stretch fours (and stretch fives). But this season, post-ups are bordering on extinction.

By the numbers: In 2005, 22 teams finished at least 10% of their possessions with a post-up, and zero teams had a post-up rate below 5%.

  • 15 years later, those numbers have essentially flipped. This season, 18 teams are finishing less than 5% of their possessions with a post-up, and only one โ€” Philadelphia โ€” has a post-up rate of at least 10%.

Highest post-up rates:

  • 76ers (11.5%)
  • Spurs (7.8%)
  • Lakers (7.6%)
  • Nuggets (7.2%)
  • Knicks (6.9%)

Lowest post-up rates:

  • Nets (0.3%)
  • Wizards (1.8%)
  • Jazz (2%)
  • Bulls (2.3%)
  • Rockets (2.4%)

Mind-blowing stats:

  • This season, only four players have a post-up rate of at least 25%: Joel Embiid (35.6%), LaMarcus Aldridge (32.4%), Boban Marjanoviฤ‡ (32.1%) and Carmelo Anthony (29.5%). Five seasons ago, 29 players were in that club. 10 seasons ago, 44 were.
  • Bucks center Brook Lopez is a great example of the revolution that's underway. In his first eight seasons, Lopez posted up regularly and attempted a total of 31 threes. In his last four seasons, he's attempted 1,466.

The bottom line: If low post masters like Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin McHale played in today's NBA, they wouldn't be pulling off "Dream Shakes" and "up-and-unders" โ€” they'd be shooting threes and living closer to the perimeter.

But wait ... "Don't read the post-up its last rites just yet," writes The Ringer's Rob Mahoney. Rookie Zion Williamson's modern twist "has already breathed new life into the traditional move" (i.e. sprinting down the floor and posting up before the defense can get set).

2. ๐Ÿˆ NFL playoffs could expand to 14 teams

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The NFL and NFLPA have informally agreed to restructure the postseason and add a seventh team from each conference for a total of 14, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.

  • Why it matters: If finalized as part of the NFL's new CBA, this format change would mark the first playoff expansion since 1990, when the league went from 10 teams to 12.
  • The structure: The proposal would eliminate the first-round bye for the No. 2 seeds, so the playoff structure would look like this: six wild-card games (up from four), four divisional-round games, two conference championships and the Super Bowl.

Looking back: Here are the teams from the last 10 years that missed the postseason as the No. 7 seed but would have made the playoffs under the proposed format.

  • 2019: Steelers (8-8) and Rams (9-7)
  • 2018: Steelers (9-6-1) and Vikings (8-7-1)
  • 2017: Ravens (9-7) and Lions (9-7)
  • 2016: Titans (9-7) and Buccaneers (9-7)
  • 2015: Jets (10-6) and Falcons (8-8)
  • 2014: Texans (9-7) and Eagles (10-6)
  • 2013: Steelers (8-8) and Cardinals (10-6)
  • 2012: Steelers (8-8) and Bears (10-6)
  • 2011: Titans (9-7) and Bears (8-8)
  • 2010: Chargers (9-7) and Giants (10-6)

The big takeaways:

  • With a 14-team field, the Steelers would have made the playoffs with an 8-8 record three times last decade, and the last two Super Bowl champs (Chiefs and Patriots, both No. 2 seeds) would have had to play an additional game.
  • Six wild-card games (three Saturday, three Sunday) would be wild, with the NFL dominating an entire weekend like college basketball does during March Madness โ€” and college football and the NFL combine to do throughout the fall.

What to watch: The current CBA expires after the 2020 season, which officially begins March 18. If a new agreement is reached before then, this expansion could go into effect immediately.

3. ๐Ÿ Daytona 500: Reviewing my first NASCAR race
Hanging with NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace. Photo: Some random guy/Axios

My thoughts on the Daytona 500, my first-ever NASCAR experience:

  • Saturday was underrated: The day before the Daytona 500, the Xfinity Series (one level below the Cup Series) holds a 300-mile race. There was still buzz, the crowds were more manageable, and the cars were slower but not by much.
  • The access was amazing: You need to purchase a certain pass to gain access to the garages and pit row prior to the race, but it's worth it. Watching teams work on their cars and peeking inside their haulers (basically garages on wheels) was my favorite part of the whole weekend. And I'm not even a big car guy.
  • Extremely loud: I tried to tough it out and not put earplugs in. I lasted three laps.
  • Boring at times: The start and finish of a NASCAR race is exhilarating, but it was hard for me to stay engaged during the middle parts because drivers weren't really changing position and I didn't know what to focus in on.
  • "Fanvision" was neat, though: I tried out a "Fanvision" device, which lets you listen to drivers and crews communicate via radio and flip between different broadcast angles and in-car cameras.
  • The infield was massive: In the center of the 2.5-mile track, there were RV villages where fans set up camp for the weekend, driver villages with much fancier RVs, food stalls, a concert stage and hundreds of golf carts โ€” the main mode of transportation around the infield's sea of roads. There was also a lake.
  • Not much of a "State Fair" vibe: Outside the Speedway, I expected there to be small businesses selling things like craft beer and cookies out of tents, but most of the space was reserved for sponsors like Toyota and Chevrolet, which have racing divisions but also use NASCAR to sell cars.
  • The surroundings: Directly across the street from the Daytona International Speedway and connected by two footbridges is ONE DAYTONA, a retail hub with restaurants, bars, condos and a NASCAR-themed hotel. That added a nightlife and lodging element and made Daytona feel like more of a "destination" than merely a racetrack.
4. โšฝ๏ธ Soccer 'round the world
Photo: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

LONDON โ€” RB Leipzig, the most vilified club in German soccer, handed Tottenham a 1-0 loss in the opening leg of their Champions League Round of 16 matchup.

Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images

MILAN โ€” Atalanta continued their dream debut Champions League campaign with a 4-1 win over Valencia (highlights).

Photo: Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images

MANCHESTER, England โ€” Kevin de Bruyne scored one goal and assisted on another as Manchester City coasted past West Ham, 2-0, in the club's first game since receiving a two-year ban from the Champions League for financial violations.

5. ๐Ÿ’ฌ Dan Patrick: Tony Romo should stay at CBS

Photo: Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

QB-turned-commentator Tony Romo is the object of a bidding war between CBS and ESPN that could reportedly see him become the highest-paid sportscaster in history.

What they're saying: ESPN veteran Dan Patrick, who left the network in 2007, thinks Romo should stay at CBS, warning that a move to ESPN would likely increase his workload, which may not appeal to him.

"He's going to get paid, so now it's not about money. Because whatever ESPN going to offer, CBS can match that. If I'm Tony Romo and I have something great with Jim Nantz, and I get to still play golf ... I don't have to go on 'Get Up' with Mike Greenberg, I don't have to do the 'Will Cain Show' in the afternoon. I basically get to do the CBS main game, and I can go golf."
"ESPN โ€” and I've told this to quite a few of these athletes who have become analysts โ€” while it's great, understand you're going to be pulled quite a few ways. You're going to be doing radio shows, TV shows, and then you're going to do the Monday night game, and then you have to be available on Tuesday as well.
"There's a lot more involved when you take that role with ESPN, because there's so many different entities to serve. To me it's a no-brainer. If the money's going to be the same? No-brainer."

The other side: Patrick assumes CBS will match any offer Romo receives, but one TV executive told Front Office Sports the opposite, suggesting that ESPN could be willing to pay $14 million annually, while CBS' max offer is closer to $8 million.

6. ๐Ÿ“Š By the numbers
Photo: John McCreary/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  • ๐Ÿ€ 22 points: NC State students stormed the court after the unranked Wolfpack destroyed No. 6 Duke, 88-66, delivering the Blue Devils their largest loss to an unranked opponent in coach Mike Krzyzewski's 40-year tenure.
  • โฑ 0.6 seconds: Sandro Mamukelashvili hit an off-balance shot in the lane at the buzzer to give No. 16 Seton Hall a 74-72 win over No. 21 Butler. Wild finish.
  • ๐Ÿšจ 157 pounds of weed: Browns OT Greg Robinson was caught with 157 pounds of marijuana Monday at a Border Patrol checkpoint in Texas. The former No. 2 overall pick faces up to 20 years in prison, as does another ex-NFL player, Quan Bray, who was with Robinson and a third man.
7. Feb. 20, 2011: ๐Ÿ€ Kobe wins All-Star Game MVP
Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

Nine years ago today, Kobe Bryant had 37 points, 14 rebounds and three steals en route to winning his fourth All-Star Game MVP (tied with Bob Petit for the most ever) โ€” an award that is now named after him.

Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
  • West roster: Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Yao Ming ... Bench: Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, Manu Ginรณbili, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams
  • East roster: Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Amar'e Stoudemire, Dwight Howard ... Bench: Ray Allen, Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett, Al Horford, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo
Photo: Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Sitting courtside: 16-year-old Justin Bieber, who I recently learned has shockingly good court vision, and Rihanna, who performed at halftime.

8. The Ocho: ๐ŸŽฎ Pros vs. Gamers
Courtesy: 100 Thieves

The NYT Magazine followed esports organization 100 Thieves for a year. The result is a fascinating look inside the gaming gold rush, and writer Robert Capps does a great job drawing a clear distinction between "competitive pros" and "lifestyle gamers."

  • Competitive pros "can be thought of as pro athletes, competing on teams in games like League of Legends, Call of Duty and Overwatch, the way teams compete in baseball or soccer. Excelling in that world involves coaching, training, hours and hours of daily scrimmaging and, of course, raw talent."
  • "Lifestyle gamers, by contrast, are entertainers. They ply their trade through digital channels like YouTube and [Twitch]. They seek to build fan bases in the millions ... To get to this level, it helps if they are very good at their games, but they aren't necessarily elite players. Above all, lifestyle gamers need to be compelling to watch โ€” some combination of funny, attractive, edgy and skilled."

Keep reading.

9. ๐Ÿ’ NHL trivia

Alex Ovechkin, whose Capitals host the Canadiens on national TV tonight (7pm ET, NBCSN) has the third-most power play goals in NHL history (259).

  • Question: Only two other active players rank in the top 50. Can you name them?
  • Hint: Their first names begin with letters that are next to each other in the alphabet (i.e. "A and B" or "J and K").

Answer at the bottom.

10. ๐Ÿ“š Good reads

๐Ÿˆ Changes are coming to the combine, and the bench press may be killed next (Kalyn Kahler, SI)

"The bench press will still be a part of this year's combine, but ... they are considering eliminating it in the future in an effort to modernize and make sure that each component of the combine is applicable to football."

๐Ÿ€ Baylor was known for its offense. Now it's winning with defense. (Josh Planos, FiveThirtyEight)

"The top-ranked Baylor men's basketball team hasn't lost in more than three months and is riding a Big 12-record 23-game win streak. This isn't the first stint at No. 1 for the school under head coach Scott Drew, but this team is nothing like previous iterations of his Bears."

๐Ÿ’ How many hockey teams does it take to make a conference? (Pat Borzi, NYT)

"Seven of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's remaining men's programs plan to leave the league. Now there's a scramble to add schools willing to travel between Alaska and Alabama to play."
Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Bubba's best bud" Baker

Trivia answer: Patrick Marleau and Steven Stamkos